On Sunday, October 20th, twenty Bowdoin College students who constitute the Common Good Grant program participated in a daylong retreat led by McKeen Fellows Danielle Orchant ’14 and Emily Mitchell ’14, and supervised by McKeen Center assistant director Caitlin Callahan ’11. Designed to help students further familiarize themselves with the Common Good Grant program, the retreat included activities and exercises to encourage the participants to get to know each other better and think critically about philanthropy.
Since 2001, an anonymous alumni donor has contributed $10,000 annually for Bowdoin students to allocate to local agencies looking for funding to start new initiatives and maintain existing programs. Acting much like a community foundation, students who are a part of the program solicit donations to augment the grant base and evaluate grant proposals to determine which local non-profits will receive the Common Good Grants each spring. The purpose of the program is to provide students the opportunity to learn about grants, foundations, and philanthropy while becoming familiar with local non-profit organizations. Each year, there are 12 students on the Grant Committee and 8 students on the Development Committee. The Grant Committee solicits proposals from non-profits and deliberates to decide which will be awarded grants, while the Development Committee raises funds to augment the grant base.
The committees this year are comprised of an extremely diverse group of students. Students from all four classes are represented and the participants have a wide variety of academic interests, including seventeen different majors such as Government, Biology, Religion, Japanese, German, Mathematics, Biochemistry, Anthropology, and Neuroscience. Additionally, committee members come from four different countries (Kenya, Lithuania, Thailand, and the United States) and eleven states (Alabama, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas).
During the morning of the retreat, participants reviewed the mission and history of the Common Good Grant Program over coffee and breakfast. They also gained a brief introduction to Requests for Proposals, grant applications, and the “Case,” topics that will be discussed in depth later on in the program. Committee members then gained practice in a mini-deliberation of five grant proposals that had been seen by previous Grant Committees. Students discussed the various factors that went into their decisions, such as personal involvement with organizations, the competitiveness of other grants, and the sustainability of the projects proposed.
Another highlight of the retreat was the Community Service Shuffle, where students had to rank different service activities according to their personal views on service. Participants would then line up according to their ranking as each activity was called out. The activity illustrated the wide range of experiences and opinions that the committee members represent, leading to multiple thought-provoking discussions as students explained their choices.
In the afternoon, students split up into their respective committees in order to get to know each other better and to reflect on skills that will be valuable for them as members of their committees. The Grant Committee competed in teams to build the tallest tower possible out of spaghetti, marshmallows, and masking tape. Afterwards, they discussed strategies for making collaborative work successful and what they felt that they could contribute to the group. The Development Committee played an intense game of Would You Rather, and then passionately debated the pros and cons of either having therapy dogs or free massages provided in Smith Union, in order to gain persuasive skills for their future meetings with donors.
The day wrapped up with a thoughtful discussion on some of the current debates in philanthropy. The group looked at two articles: The Charitable-Industrial Complex by Peter Buffet and Cash, Cows, and the Rise of Nerd Philanthropy by David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein. Many participants remarked that the retreat had challenged their previous conceptions of service, and that they were looking forward to discussing such topics further throughout the year.